Toronto
3 min

Porn interloper

Bruce LaBruce switches cameras

PUSHING THE LIMITS OF FASHION. New art show is the first chance Torontonians get to see filmmaker Bruce LaBruce's other talent - photography. Credit: Bruce LaBruce

“I’m not consciously stepping away from film. I still see myself as a filmmaker first, really.”



Although Toronto filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, known for his cult hits like Super 81/2 and Hustler White, has been taking photos for 20 years, his career in photography officially began in 1998 when he did a spread for the porn magazine Honcho.



For LaBruce, this development happened “organically,” he hadn’t actively set his sights on a photography career. Since then, his income has come equally from writing, filmmaking and photography. He now works regularly for Honcho, Inches and Index magazines.



LaBruce’s new show is the brainchild of Bruce Bailey, the mind and the money behind Bailey Fine Arts. “Bruce is a genius,” says Bailey.



The two Bruces met one snowy night this past winter when Bailey, a fan of LaBruce’s films and writing, saw him and cohort Vaginal Davis standing on a street corner and offered them a ride.



Later, when LaBruce approached Bailey to look at his photographs, Bailey was so thrilled that he incorporated Bailey Fine Arts, through which he plans to exhibit work that could not otherwise be created or shown, and to promote Canadian artists internationally, using the network he has built over his 25 years in the art world.



LaBruce is the first and only artist the gallery represents. “When you have Bruce LaBruce, you only need one artist,” says Bailey, although he does plan to expand his one-man artist stable in the future.



LaBruce seems mildly incredulous that he has just hooked one of the top 200 art collectors in the world as his dealer. That kind of serendipitous meeting “happens to me all the time,” says LaBruce.



Bailey Fine Arts (at 594 Spadina Ave) is an unlikely location for an exhibition of Bruce LaBruce photographs. It is a quaint, nicely renovated storefront, complete with awning, white hydrangeas and wrought iron fence, just off the University of Toronto campus. I suspect the unlikely juxtaposition suits them both fine.



Bailey has chosen 44 colour photographs for the exhibition. Forty of the works hang salon style, from floor to ceiling, on two opposite walls of the intimate gallery. The remaining four are large-scale works that hang on the back wall, visible from the door.



LaBruce calls himself an “artist working in pornography,” and most of the photographs in the show carry sexually explicit content: There are lots of erect cocks. The images cover a broad cross-section of LaBruce’s career, from editorial work for porn mags and informal Nan Goldinesque snapshots, to production stills.



I found that, while few of the images were formally striking, there was something that compelled me to keep looking: The show is undeniably sexy. There is a series of “porntraits,” as LaBruce calls them, naked men posed in front of solid-coloured backgrounds, one on crutches, another in a wheelchair, another with a sling.



Then there is the series of what looks like Hugo Boss ads gone libidinous: clean cut, impeccably dressed men giving each other blowjobs. Fashion images, more than porn, are what influence LaBruce.



“I reference images of extreme sexuality in a more hardcore context. Some of my photographs have been influenced by a Helmut Newton image, a fashion image, which is extreme for fashion, but then I’ll push it where it doesn’t dare go itself.”

Throughout LaBruce’s career, art and celebrity have been an uneasy pair. “Bruce LaBruce was a construct I invented to represent me, Wizard Of Oz style.



“I was thrust into this position without actually wanting it and I was reluctant to participate in the porn world as it exists because it can be very exploitational and crass and anti-intellectual.

“And, even though I’m now working on the edges of the legitimate porn world, I still feel very much like an interloper.”



LaBruce likens himself to Don Knotts, known for “impotent nerdy characters thrust by circumstance into ‘potent’ positions,” says LaBruce. “I always relate to that paradigm.



“My ’90s were predicated on the belief that great art comes from mutilated egos,” he says. “And now I’m exploring different options and trying to come up with a new basis for making art.”



PHOTOGRAPHS.

Sat, Sep 8-Oct 6.

Bailey Fine Arts.

594 Spadina Ave.

(416) 819-3354.